Monday, February 01, 2010

The Grammys: It takes two to make a thing go right/wrong


Of the major showbiz awards shows, I only watch the Emmys for professional reasons, and at this point I mainly stick with the Oscars for work, as well. (It's a movie awards show, but it's also one of the most-watched TV shows of the year, so I tend to write about it.)

The Grammys, though, I watch for personal reasons. First, it helps me come out from behind my niche-y iPod playlists to get a reminder for a night of what's going on in popular music. Second, I'm a sucker for unconventional duets, which the Grammy telecast has offered up a lot of in recent years. Sometimes, they're incredible (Joss Stone and Melissa Etheridge sing Janis Joplin), and sometimes they fizzle, but they're always interesting to look at to see why one combination works, another doesn't, etc.

Last night, Taylor Swift was the big winner of the night, winning Album of the Year, but she was also part of the evening's most memorably awkward duet, when she teamed up with Stevie Nicks for a medley that included Nicks' "Rhiannon." Swift has carved out a very impressive career for herself by working hard, being very well-rehearsed (see her "surprised" reaction to every single awards victory she's had in the last year) and understanding her strengths (personality, songwriting, stagecraft) and weaknesses (limited vocal range). Placed next to Nicks, and handed a song that wasn't written with her skill set in mind, Swift gave the kind of performance where, if it had happened on "American Idol," Paula Abdul would have started her comments by telling Taylor how pretty she looked.

Hey, it happens, and on balance her night worked out very well for her. So, for those of you who also watched last night, what were some of your favorite and/or least favorite performances, and why?

40 comments:

Jen said...

I loved the Lady Gaga/Sir Elton duet. They are both so hilariously wacky with their tacky sequins and whatnot, yet, both are amazing performers who probably don't need all the sparkly nonsense (and soot for that matter). A lot of fun to watch.

Adam said...

The DMB performance was nice, as was the Jeff Beck tribute to Les Paul. Other than that ... from meh to bad, though Pink doing her impression of a washing machine during a spincycle was interesting. Completists can review the ALOTT5MA liveblog here.

Memo2Self said...

Well, I know OF Pink, but haven't really followed her -- I thought she was stunning. Strong singing and gorgeous spectacle. And I wondered at first why the camera didn't show her being lowered into the water -- but that was before I realized she was being lowered into water! (In other words, the surprise was better than the process of the surprise.) And yet Entertainment Weekly called it the worst performance of the night! ("Boo hoo hoo, she did it before at the VMAs" -- well, I didn't see it!) And they gave much higher marks to the noisefest that Jamie Foxx led! How much talent does it take to go "Yeah! Yeah!" while somebody else is rapping?

john said...

Pink was dressed like Gozer the Gozerian.

Anonymous said...

Best: Zac Brown Band. Any hype that these guys get is earned; they tour like fiends and it showed last night.

Worst: Black Eyed Peas by default. While Swift's performance was decidedly bad (and her Best Country and Album of the Year wins dubious), at least she attempted to make some music.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is come back Kanye! All is forgiven. It's a joke to see Taylor Swift win.

filmcricket said...

There's no way in hell Pink was actually singing. The whole thing looked great, but you couldn't be spun around that fast and keep your voice that steady and clear.

Worst performance: probably Beyonce's. She screwed up the lyrics to "You Oughta Know" (which she was singing why?) and if you're going to stomp onstage with a bunch of riot cops, you need to bring it, "Rhythm Nation" style, not start singing a ballad.

Nicole said...

I got bored with the show half way through so I can only really comment on the Lady Gaga/ Elton John performance and Beyonce with her wind machine singing Alanis.
They were good, but not memorable, especially Beyonce, who should have included Single Ladies in her medley, since she was winning so many awards for it.

I wasn't sure why Jamie Foxx was there and he really needs to stop showing up on every awards show. At least Kanye would have made it interesting. (It seems as though Grammy voters agree with him anyway)

Taylor Swift can write a song, but can't really sing. She offends me less than Miley Cyrus, but otherwise she is dull as dishwater. (and if she is really dating John Mayer, I will have to write her off altogether).

I did see, or try to see, that 3D MJ fiasco. Why must we Avatar everything? I don't recall being told that we now needed 3D glasses to watch television and the blurriness was irritating enough for me to leave the room and just listen to the singing. That segment was a CBS FAIL.

Chip said...

Really wasn't happy with the way Grammys treated rap this year. The only award they gave out during the actual broadcast was the one Jay accepted with his nephew. Not cool. That said, Drake-Wayne-Em-Travis Barker was my highlight, and not just because rap's my fave genre. Beyonce, MJ tribute were good too and seeing Gaga and Elton John was trippy

Alan Sepinwall said...

Only problem with the rap medley was the censor's quick, long trigger finger on the mute button. Hard to get into a performance flow when the sound keeps dropping out for 10 seconds at a time.

Kathy said...

I thought Lady Gaga and Elton John were brilliant! Jamie Foxx makes me ill. I was amazed by Pink's performance but I was distracted by the fear that she was going to fall. Taylor Swift seems to be a sweet girl but I can only listen to songs about teenage angst so long. I think the CMA's are the best balance of award show to entertainment that you can find on television. Everyone else should take a lesson from them.

J said...

Swift, unless she's on a stool with a guitar, is a miserable live performer. But she's such a consistently miserable live performer that everyone should be used to it by now. It's almost a shame that Fearless is such a great record.

But the highlight of her performance was an appearance by Butch Walker on banjolin. Walker put together his own version of Swift's "You Belong to Me" (and taped the process). Swift chose to do his version, and it got him on stage last night. (Not that he's an industry nobody.)

Liked Beyonce's Alanis cover, and I suspect the over-bleeped rap triumverate was awesome (but couldn't tell). But too many botched Broadway/Cirque du Soleil spectacles and too few real musical moments. When even Maxwell has trouble with his notes, you know something's off.

Davy said...

Pink's performance was the only one I can really say I loved. She managed to wear a Cher-worthy spectacle while still seeming classy. Nice job.

I liked the beginning spectacle of Lady Gaga's perormance, but when Elton joined it it kinda died a slow death (which is too bad, cause I like the guy).

Last week I'd read someone who wrote that Taylor Swift might be able to write good songs, but she couldn't sing live... and now I understand exactly what they meant. Ouch!

JanieJones said...

I was flipping back and forth. It always great to see Jeff Beck. I enjoyed DMB and Green Day.
Elton John/Lady Gaga was enjoyable. I kept thinking Elton's ear was going to fall off with his very large earring. I know she has a niche in her fashion statements and her music isn't to my taste, but she does have talent with her voice.
Taylor Swift/Stevie Nicks-Swift was out of tune which marred the performance of that wonderful song.
Beyonce-I just caught the Alanis part and thought she has enough music in her own catalog that she didn't need to cover that song, which she partially butchered.
The whole rap medley was messed up because of the censor.
I missed Pink but caught enough news this morning on t.v. to see she gave a very interesting performance. Filmcricket-supposedly you cannot lip sync on the Grammy's so more power to Pink.
I caught a minute of MJ's son speaking. He was slightly eloquent and well-spoken.
My fiance was running a hilarious commentary every time I turned on the Grammy's. I wish I would've recorded his comments.

Mon-sewer Paul Regret said...

I need to add, since there are always non-believers, that Pink does not lip-sync. I appreciate that some people won't believe this, and I also appreciate that I (and her many other fans) are blind to reality. But having seen her live three times and watched her countless times on video, I believe her No Sync stance, which she insists upon on a regular basis.

Hatfield said...

Gozer! Reference of the day.

Anonymous said...

OK, I am old enough to be God's little sister, but I liked Andrea Boceli with Mary K. Blige. She sounded (and kinda had the dress and hair to match) Aretha about 30 years ago singing that same song.

Jerron said...

So does the Taylor Swift camp owe Kany West one of the Grammies for getting her all the symapthy votes...Harsh and not to dismiss the talent but GaGa and Beyonce were far better.

renton said...

Why ask them to perform a rap song that has to be bleeped so much?

(And technically, if it aired after 11PT ET and one tape delay out west isn't that out of the "safe zone?")

erin said...

I haven't watched the Grammys in years, but i figured I would watch. Still wasn't that impressed, but then I"m not a huge live music fan. But I thought Pink was absolutely wonderful, and was actually ticked off that EW gave it a C+. Yes, she did some gymnastics on the VMAs, but it was a different routine to a different song, and it was on MTV. I thought her performance last night was classy and beautiful and riveting.

I thought Taylor was one of the worst, and cringed through most of her segment with Stevie. She seems like a sweet girl and I know she's a talented songwriter, but she still strikes me as overrated. I liked Beyonce, but i'm starting to think her pieces, with her Sasha Fierce persona, are starting to resemble each other. which is why Pink was a breath of fresh air.

Not into performance art, so Gaga doesn't do much for me. But i did like the MJ song with the powerhouses. I thought all the singers did a good job with it. All in all, I wasn't bored most of the time.

Nina said...

It's safer inside your iPod. The show (at least the telecast) rarely represents anything new and interesting.
Best new artist Silversun Pickups, for example, has been playing for at least five years.

Memo2Self said...

One other note about Pink -- as I mentioned, I don't really know much about her music, but as a result of that performance, I want to check out her album. So on that front alone, it was a success.

And are Kristin Bell and that Duhamel guy on a CBS series I don't know about?

Adam said...

Bell and Mr. Fergie starred in a movie you didn't see this weekend.

Chip said...

There's an uncensored version of Drake's performance floating around and it confirms what I thought: they were censoring themselves. So blame CBS for thinking that the three of them wouldn't remember they were on national network tv and ruining an otherwise good performance

Jen said...

I really enjoyed the Lady Antebellum performance, which I don't think anyone's mentioned. Several friends have told me that they have the group on their "Artists to Watch 2010 Edition" lists so I've officially been put on notice. They were fun.

Um and yay Bon Jovi.

filmcricket said...

Okay, I stand corrected about Pink. If that's the case, that is quite impressive. I fail to see the "performance art" distinction between what she did last night and Lady Gaga, though, except for the fact that Gaga's outfits were more painful looking.

Huge fan of DMB so was happy to see them perform even though I don't think that's a great song for them to do live as Dave always has to strain to get that one note. Really did like the string section and back-up singers however.

john wall said...

I think the 2010 Grammys will be remembered for performances by Beyonce and Pink, and Taylor Swift winning 4 awards including the biggest of the night.

Eddie said...

Wow. Things really are upside down when people call Pink "classy".

Sidd P. said...

Grammys were okay. TSwift ( I have no shame) was awful, Green Day (well, not Green Day, but the Cast of American Idiot) were good, and I watched the rest of it with the mute on. The Michael Jackson tribute is rediculous with the sound off. I mean, a waterfall? Stallions galloping across an open plain? In 3-D? Really?

Anonymous said...

Wow the rap guys really did censor themselves perfectly. The censors really took the bite out of a great performance. Blame Janet and Justin.

dez said...

They screwed up the Michael Jackson tribute by not showing the actual 3-D stuff enough, which made the glasses more of a nuisance than anything. Figures.

Allison said...

There's something so bizarre about the Grammys that I've gotten into the habit of watching. The badness is SO bad - the rare, great parts are so enjoyable.

I can't think of anything that looked worse, but sounded better than Elton John and Lady Gaga's duet. They complemented each other's voices incredibly well.

Pink - I've always enjoyed but that was one heck of a performance. Loved her Lana Turner with Tats look, at the beginning.

The Michael Jackson tribute had good singing, the stupidest concept of using 3D imaginable. It was headache inducing and the audience looked like idiots IMO on the glasses. In another situation, I would have enjoyed mocking it more.

There's something endearing about Taylor Swift but that was godawful.
It was even worse when I rewatched it.
(Another Kanye West moment like "Jesus Walks" from a few years back, please.)

Roberta Flack..somebody shoot me. Maybe it's me.



And did I hear Ringo Starr say "Kings of Leone"? That was funny - and "Use Somebody" is a great song. Why they didn't perform, I don't know.

Also..Andrea Bocelli with Mary K. Blige. I agree with the comparison to Aretha, and that's saying something. Blige killed me with her version of the traditional song"Hard Times" before in the Haiti concert..now this. It underlines why the bad is worth tolerating to get to the good.

Anonymous said...

The Grammys show is entertaining, but they might as well not even bother with the awards. They only show a few of them, they all come down to a popularity contest, and no good new artists ever win anything. Obviously, I'm aware of the best new artist award, but come on, i've been listening to silversun pickups for years, and not a single actual new rock artist was in that group. The oscars at least gives a few smaller, possibly indie movies some props, but the grammys doesn't seem interested in anything but awarding the most popular (and rarely ever the most talented) stars. Sure, avatar will win awards at the oscars, but so might crazy heart, a much smaller-scale, albiet equally awe-inspiring movie. This show needed a performance that rocked, and the only "rock" performances were DMB and green day, neither of which rocked. I know the grammys appeals to the masses, but it doesn't hit any notes with people who actually love music, and it needs some better balance.

Anonymous said...

Pink doesn't lip sync IN CONCERT, but she did for that performance in the water...sorry, that's just the facts.

Show was pretty wretched.

Dave T said...

So does the Taylor Swift camp owe Kany West one of the Grammies for getting her all the symapthy votes.

She was winning awards before that.

Let me refresh your memory: he interrupted her after she had already won an award, and won it over Beyonce -- at freakin' MTV, which is hardly a haven for country performers.

I think it's safe to say she didn't need any "sympathy vote."

Anonymous said...

Even if you take Kanye out of the picture, any/every award that Swift has ever won has been due in part to sympathy.

Anonymous said...

Song of the year, the award for excellence in songwriting, goes to "Uh oh oh, Uh oh oh"

schoolbooksue said...

@allison- Roberta Flack's voice wasn't great but her face was beyond scary! That immobility has to have an effect on her tone. A person cannot place the notes correctly in the mouth if their face doesn't move. No one cared what she looked like in the first place anyway, it was her voice that was amazing- once.

Anonymous said...

Completely in agreement with anonymous who said Grammys only award the popular. If you look at all the awards shows, Grammys are taken the least seriously and for good reason (Homer Simpson threw his Grammy off a balcony to which the recipient yelled "Don't throw your garbage down here."). Oscars nominate and award the little seen every year (Melissa Leo comes to mind for Frozen River). Even Cable shows which have a fraction of the audience of Network shows get love from the Emmys (Mad Men, Breaking Bad).

Yet when it comes to the Grammy's they only award the high sellers. You look at music critic's top 10 and you will see Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear on almost every list. But since they are indie, Grammys pay no mind.

I'm not saying if you sell a lot you are automatically bad, but sales seems to be a big criteria for Grammys when it shouldn't it be. It would be like if Transformers and Spiderman 3 competed for best picture and NCIS won best drama every year.

So Alan please don't use only the Grammys to update your playlists. Use metacritic and youtube.

LA said...

I have been a devoted Stevie Nicks fan for 35 years, and watching Taylor Swift butcher Rhiannon on YouTube the next day reminded me why I don't watch that clusterf*ck known as The Grammys.